“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

When I first saw the trailer for the third installment of the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”, I thought I was in for an overblown and possibly unentertaining movie. Quite frankly, the trailer did not impress me very much. And then word came out once the movie was released around May 24-25 that the movie was either confusing or not as good as the first two. I had approached ”AT WORLD’S END” with very low expectations. Thankfully, my expectations proved to be wrong. 

Was ”POTC 3” overblown? Yep. In fact, I can say the same about the first two movies. But at least the three movies were overblown in a manner that I found very enjoyable. And this third movie almost seemed to have an operatic quality about it. That operatic quality seemed to be focused around the movie’s two love stories – Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) and Davy Jones/Tia Dalma aka Calypso (Bill Nighy and Naomie Harris). One would think that the saga’s main character – Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his main nemesis Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) would be overlooked. But these two characters provided both plenty of humor and surprisingly, angst to the movie.

”AWE” does not really have a complicated plot. Thanks to James Norrington’s (Jack Davenport) treachery in ”DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, the world of piracy finds itself in danger due to Lord Cutler Beckett’s (Tom Hollander) possession of Davy Jones’s heart. With Jones and the Flying Dutchman under his control, Beckett has the power to rid the seas of pirates and ensure that the British Crown, the East India Trading Company and himself will have control of the world’s seas. The recently resurrected Barbossa seemed to feel that the only way to stop Beckett is to summon the nine pirate lords of the Brethren Court. Both he and the recently deceased Jack Sparrow happened to be part of the Brethren Court. Because Jack had failed to name a successor, Barbossa needs Jack alive to take part in the meeting of the pirate lords. Will, who had witnessed a kiss between Elizabeth and Jack in ”DMC”, wants Jack alive for two reasons – he believes that Elizabeth is in love with Jack and he needs the Black Pearl to catch up with the Flying Dutchman. Elizabeth wants to bring Jack back to alleviate her guilt for luring the eccentric pirate to his death in the last film. Tia Dalma, the Vodoun priestess who had resurrected Barbossa needs both the latter and Jack for the “pieces of nine” that represent their positions as pirate lords. Those same pieces of nine could free Dalma from her bodily prison, enabling to become her true identity, the goddess Calypso.

Due to the needs and desires of the main characters, a great deal of double-crossing and back stabbing ensues – especially by Jack, Will and Barbossa. Another pirate lord, Sao Feng (Chow Yun Fat), gets into the act because he wants revenge against Jack for sleeping with his concubines . . . and to ensure his survival against Beckett’s purge.

I thought I would have trouble keeping up with so much treachery being committed. Oddly enough, I never did – aside from a few points. If Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth needed a ship so badly to reach the World’s End (Davy Jones’ Locker), how on earth did they reach Singapore in the first place? At first, I wanted to criticize the writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot for their vague explanation of the curse that had bound both Davy Jones and later, Will to command of the Flying Dutchman. Many fans – including myself – were forced to use the Internet to find out the details of the curse. As it turned out, Elliot and Rossio did include a scene in which Tia Dalma/Calypso had explained the curse in detail to Will. But for some reason, the film’s editors decided to cut it decrease the movie’s running time. Idiot editors. All they did was end up confusing a lot of fans, considering Elliot and Rossio confirmed that the Flying Dutchman curse was broken in the post-end credits scene when Will returned to Elizabeth for good. Other than that, I truly enjoy the movie’s story and have to commend the writers for doing a better job than I had anticipated.

The cast was exceptional as always. What can one say about Johnny Depp? His performance in this movie seemed even better than in the second film. I especially enjoyed three moments by Depp – his multifaceted performance of the many aspects of Jack’s personality in the Locker; the serious moment between Jack and Barbossa as the latter pointed out the folly of Jack’s tendency to run from trouble; and his look of horror when Jones managed to fatally stab Will. I had no idea that dear old Jack truly cared about Will.

And Geoffrey Rush came pretty close to stealing the picture from Depp. This time, his Barbossa turned out to be a much more complex and ambiguous than he was in ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. Sure, we saw more of Barbossa’s villainy and double-crossing. But this is the same guy who also had no problems with marrying Will and Elizabeth . . . even in the middle of a sea battle. I swear that was one of the craziest wedding ceremonies I have ever seen on the movie screen. And when he double-crossed Jack for the last time, at least he was kind enough not to put Jack’s life in jeopardy.

Both Naomie Harris (who seemed a bit scary at times) and Bill Nighy provided great pathos as the romantically doomed Tia Dalma (Calypso) and Davy Jones. I especially enjoyed their scene in which each confronted the other with their past betrayals. Tom Hollander seemed to take great pleasure in his portrayal of the villainous Lord Beckett. Quite frankly, I can say the same about Chow Yun Fat, who seemed to enjoy delving into Sao Feng’s villainy. I had feared he would end up chewing the scenery, so to speak. Instead, he managed to come off as intimidating as Rush, Hollander and Nighy (and Harris, I may add). My only real complaint has to be Jack Davenport’s presence in the movie. Davenport has allowed his James Norrington to become a sad figure haunted by his ever-continuing love for Elizabeth and his betrayal in the last film. And I thought that he did a marvelous job in conveying Norrington’s regrets over his DMD actions. Unfortunately, there was not enough of Norrington in the film. Hell, the guy who portrayed Beckett’s right hand man – Mercer – had received more screen time. And there is something wrong with that.

But I feel that the movie truly belonged to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as the young lovers – Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. The pair’s characters and performances really struck a chord with me. Instead of the naïve and sweet lovers they had portrayed in the first film, the pair had become more ambiguous and complex. It seemed interesting to watch these two deal with each other’s insecurities, mistaken beliefs and constant sniping. They actually seemed like a real couple, instead of an idealized one. Most of the movie critics have praised Knightley for her performance. Granted, it was a major improvement over her acting in ”DMC” in which she had seemed a bit over-the-top at times, I do believe that Bloom deserved some of that praise, as well. But because he is a major teen idol, the critics have seemed fit to either ignore him or make insulting comments about his acting. I can only assume that their noses were so far up their asses that they failed to notice Bloom’s obvious talent for pathos . . . or the fact that he can be rather funny – especially in a scene in which he had volunteered to take command of the Black Pearl in the middle of one of Jack and Barbossa’s many shipboard quarrels. I hope that one day, Bloom will finally be appreciated as a good and dependable actor.

The movie has its flaws – especially the vague handling of the Flying Dutchman curse and James Norrington’s character – but I must admit that I was surprised that I managed to enjoy it a lot more than I had assumed I would. I have also heard rumors that Bruckheimer and Verbinski plan to make a fourth ”PIRATES” movie. I honestly have no idea on how to react to that. They are lucky in which they have managed to create three exceptional films. I cannot help but wonder if they are in danger of pushing their luck with a fourth one. Oh well. Only time will tell.

“TROPIC THUNDER” (2008) Review

”TROPIC THUNDER” (2008) Review

While playing a small part in Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama, ”EMPIRE OF THE SUN” (which ironically starred a young Christian Bale), actor/comedian Ben Stiller had come up with the idea of a group of prima donna actors filming a Vietnam War film. Over twenty years later, Stiller’s idea came to fruition in the action comedy movie, ”TROPIC THUNDER”.

Stiller and fellow co-writers, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, created a hilarious and very original story that began with a series of fake commercials and movie trailers. The commercials featured rap singer Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) promoting his “Booty Sweat” energy drink and “Bust-A-Nut” candy bar. Then the movie continued with a series of movie trailers that included action star Tugg Speedman’s (Stiller) latest film, “Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown”; and another for low-brow comedian Jeff Portnoy’s (Jack Black) film, “The Fatties: Fart 2” that spoofed Eddie Murphy’s portrayal of multiple characters such as in “NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS”. But the final trailer – and the funniest in the bunch – featured award winning Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downy, Jr.) and Tobey Maguire as two gay medieval monks in a parody of films like “BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN” called ”Satan’s Alley”.

But the meat of the story featured the three actors, the rap singer and character actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) as co-stars in ”Tropic Thunder”, a movie adaptation of the memoirs of a disabled Vietnam War veteran named “Four Leaf” Tayback (Nick Nolte). The movie’s production is spiraling out of control and rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) seemed unable to handle the prima donnas or keep the movie on schedule. Cockburn is ordered by studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) to get the production back on track or risk having it shut down. With inspiration from Tayback, Cockburn drops the spoiled actors into the middle of the jungle, where he installs hidden cameras and special effect explosions rigged by pyrotechnics man Cody (Danny R. McBride) so he can film the movie “guerrilla-style”. The actors have only a map and a scene listing to guide them to the helicopter waiting at the end of the jungle. Shortly afterward, the director is blown up by a land mine left by the French, but thanks to his preceding diatribe, only Lazarus realizes his death was real. Even worse, the actors ended up in the middle of the Golden Triangle, the home of the heroin-producing Flaming Dragon gang, led by a young boy named Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo). And Cody and Tayback end up as prisoners of the Dragons. As for Tran and the Dragons, they believe the actors to be DEA agents.

”TROPIC THUNDER” not only struck me as a parody of the Hollywood movie industry, but also a parody of the lengths human beings go to create illusions about themselves. Tugg Speedman is a failing action star who had earlier attempted a serious role in order to save his career. I can only assume that ”Tropic Thunder” is his second attempt. Yet, he seemed incapable of facing the possibility of being a has-been and has to depend upon his agent, Rick “Pecker” Peck (Matthew McConaghey) to maintain his ever deflating ego. Jeff Portnoy resorts to drug addiction to deal with the realization that his past success mainly came from his talent from flatulence humor. Lazarus is an Oscar-winning Australian method actor who has a bad habit staying in his role even when the cameras are not rolling. For ”Tropic Thunder”, Lazurus deliberately undertook an operation to change his skin pigmentation in order to portray an African-American sergeant. Naturally, Lazurus’ role produced resentment and anger from Alpa Chino, the rapper trying to break into films. But even Chino is projecting a façade about himself, which his fellow co-stars manage to break through near the end of the film. The only one in the bunch who seemed real is young Sandusky, the drama student who seemed to be the only sane head in the bunch. Yet, despite the fact the film is bursting with Hollywood phonies, the biggest phony turned out to Tayback, who had never seen combat during the Vietnam War or was disabled. Even worse, he had spent the war aboard a Coast Guard garbage scow that never left U.S. waters. He had originally written the book as a tribute to U.S. servicemen.

I have to say that this movie’s cast more than impressed me. Ben Stiller portrayed one of his best roles as Tugg Speedman, a Hollywood veteran struggling to save his career. Yet, his sanity nearly went down the toilet when Tran and the Dragons force him to replay the scenes of his failed drama, ”Simple Jack”. By the time his fellow cast members found him, Speedman had gone by the way of Colonel Kurtz. I must admit that I usually have difficulty finding Jack Black funny. However, I do believe that Jeff Portnoy was probably one of his better roles – hilarious without being over-the-top. I realize that drug addiction is nothing to laugh about, but his and Sandusky’s attempts to help him deal with withdrawal and reject the temptation of the Dragons’ own heroin were rather funny. Nick Nolte and Danny McBride made an amusing comedy team and I especially enjoyed their interaction when Cody discovered that Tayback is not a Vietnam veteran, but a phony. Matthew McConaghey did one of his best roles as Speedman’s always eager agent, Rick Peck. And Tom Cruise must have had a blast portraying the arrogant and overbearing film producer, Les Grossman. He was hilarious. A member of my family was surprised to discover that the balding, foul-mouthed man was actually Cruise.

Most critics have lauded Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the method actor Lazurus, who spends most of the movie trying to act like an African American. RDJ was hilarious. In fact, I can honestly say that he was the funniest member of the cast. His most hilarious moment came on the heels of an argument between Lazurus and Chino, when he breaks into a litany about the black man’s 400 years of oppression (damn, has it been that long?) and Chino’s use of the “n” word that ended with him singing the theme to television series, ”THE JEFFERSONS”. It took me nearly five minutes to recover from my laughter. But Downey’s take on Kirk Lazurus could have ended in disaster without the presence of Brandon T. Jackson. His Chino not only expressed anger at Lazurus’ portrayal of a black man, but provided some pretty sharp zingers at the actor’s ego and sanity. Another funny scene featured Chino’s insults about Lazurus’ Australian background. What made the scene so humorous were Lazurus’ protests against Chino’s insults, while maintaining his charade as a black man. Weird.

I believe that Ben Stiller should be proud of ”TROPIC THUNDER”. Not only did he give an excellent performance, he also co-wrote and directed what I believe should become a comedy classic. That’s right. A comedy classic. ”TROPIC THUNDER” is one of the best comedies I have seen in years – along with the British action comedy, ”HOT FUZZ”. I also feel that it is Stiller’s best movie since the police parody, ”STARSKY AND HUTCH”. Hell, it is better than the 2003 movie he had co-starred with Owen Wilson. The cast was superb. So was Jon Toll’s photography of the island of Kauai, which stood as both Vietnam and Cambodia. Stiller, Theroux and Cohen had created one hell of a comedy.